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[Guest feature] What is in the cigarette butt?

It is a well-known fact that smoking kills. But the irony is, it is not just the smoker that it kills, its also the nature that suffers, especially the oceans. Studies suggest that about 4.5 Trillion cigarette butts (22-46% of visible litter) are littered each year that make their way to the oceans. When the trash gets washed ashore, its not just the plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers but also the cigarette butts that are choking the marine life and are becoming a global epidemic.

It is perplexing how the cigarette butts littered on the city streets make their way into the oceans (perhaps via the rain and river water), but knowing that they do, why should we care and why are they such a big problem?

The anatomy of cigarette butts

Cigarette butts are mainly made of cellulose acetate that biodegrades slowly and can take up to 10 years to break down under normal litter conditions. Cigarette butts were invented in 1950’s as a promotional feature by the cigarette manufacturers which was later made mandatory due to fear of contracting lung cancer. By the mid-1960’s, researchers realized that the substances being filtered, like nicotine, were what made cigarettes satisfying for smokers, so manufacturers made filters less effective. Today 98% of cigarette filters are made of plastic fibers- cellulose acetate.

The havoc unleashed

A single cigarette butt can contaminate over 500 ml of water and contains more than 20 toxic chemicals that can harm the marine and aquatic life, if leeched into the environment. A whooping 4.5 trillion cigarette butts end up as litter making cigarette butts the top most littered item worldwide. Also, one kilogram of cigarette waste contains above 3,000 cigarette butts.

The solution

Careful disposal and efficient recycling of the cigarette butt is possible and companies like the Code Effort Pvt. Ltd. and TerraCycle are doing their part in recycling the erstwhile hard to recycle waste like cigarette butt. The challenge was that most regions lacked specific guidelines or regulations for appropriate cigarette waste management and recycling. This meant that not many recycling organizations existed owing to lack of proper knowledge and government guidelines.

Code Effort Private Limited provides a complete system for collection of cigarette waste from PAN India through cigarette vendors, contracts, corporates, rag pickers, volunteers, etc. The collection of cigarette waste is one rigorous task our team successfully handles. As of today, 1,000 Kilograms (3,000,000+ cigarette butts) are collected for recycling from PAN India monthly from major cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Kolhapur to name a few. Code Effort Private Limited offers customized cigarette waste receptacles sold under the brand name of VBINS (Value Bins) to cigarette vendors, commercial spaces and individual smokers to ensure appropriate cigarette waste disposal. The cigarette waste collected through various channels is exchanged with monetary as well as non- monetary returns to enhance employment and by- product sales across India on behalf of Code Effort Private Limited. The system of cigarette waste management provided by Code Effort Private Limited has improved the economic and living conditions of hundreds of rag pickers, unemployed people and volunteers across India.

The cigarette butts procured by Code are manually separated into three categories i.e. cellulose acetate, paper covering and leftover tobacco with necessary precautionary measures like gloves, masks and thread cutters in place for the workers. The cellulose acetate is shredded by industrial shredder, treated using a proprietary biodegradable chemical composition for 24- 36 hours and carded using a carding machine to enhance fiber softness. After thorough quality check, they are then transformed into various premium by-products sold under the brand name of VMAKE (Vision Make) like handicrafts, cushions, mattresses, soft toys, etc. The waste water that is generated after treatment of cellulose acetate is further recycled using certified chemicals for usage in further batches. The paper covering and the leftover tobacco are shredded into pulp by industrial shredder, formulated into A5 sheets and hand-cut into 25×30 mm mosquito repellents sold under the brand name of NMOSQ (No Mosquito) for domestic use. All the by-products of Code Effort Private Limited are prepared and packed by a team of 25 semi-skilled women to foster women empowerment and work- from- home opportunities. The treated materials adhere to all the safety and legal standards and have certified lab reports with respect to the same.

Code Effort Private Limited has upcoming by-products like air-purification systems and eye frames to name a few. Such by-products are under research and development phase and expected to be launched in the financial year 2020-2021. Due to no existing competitors in the field of cigarette waste management and recycling in India till date, Code Effort Private Limited is a leading initiative for CSR which has the potential to reach masses and make an impact globally.

Let us all take a step towards Conserving Our Depleting Environment!

DISCLAIMER: Co-authored with Naman Gupta from Code Effort Pvt. Ltd, India.


Published by Kshitij Tiwari

Roboticist, martial artist, solo traveler, environmentalist

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